#7 on the 2012 Musical Bacon Calendar
Valtari by Sigur Rós
Consistency isn’t always a good thing. Sigur Rós, from Iceland, have done a great job of evolving, keeping from growing stale. The band’s last album, 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, was a major departure from their previous, über-quiet albums, and proved the band could throw happiness, bounciness and excitement into the mix. In fact, it was that album that got me fully vested in the band, having liked what they’d done to date, but never being won over enough to listen to their albums with any regularity. After that album, Jónsi, the band’s lead singer and main songwriter, released a solo album, Go, which was on the 2010 Musical Bacon Calendar. That album felt like an extension of the 2008 album, continuing with his newly-discovered high energy levels.
And now he, back with the band, has come full circle. This new album, Valtari, is full of quiet, meditative lows and rapturous crescendos, making it seem like the band never took that departure. Thankfully, I’ve now grown appreciative of their earlier work, and can now enjoy the quiet as much as the bouncy version of the band.
To me, Sigur Rós is best heard as the accompaniment to a visual landscape, looking out the window from 30,000 feet. Whenever I fly somewhere, Sigur Rós is there with me, my go-to flying music. Their quieter albums are the perfect complement to the ebbing sleep one falls into when taking long flights. Consequently, I think of Sigur Rós as a band that, quite literally, transports. Reinforcing this idea of band as a soundtrack to life (and sleep) in the clouds, and to help sell the new album, the band hired big name directors and actors to create 16 videos for the album, dubbed the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment:
Sigur Rós have given a dozen film makers the same modest budget and asked them to create whatever comes into their head when they listen to songs from the band’s new album Valtari. The idea is to bypass the usual artistic approval process and allow people utmost creative freedom. Among the filmmakers are Ramin Bahrani, Alma Har’el and John Cameron Mitchell.
Each director was given $10,000 and full artistic license. Surprisingly — or perhaps not, given the type of music Sigur Rós is known for — quite a few of the videos feature slow-motion, meditation-like visuals. All of the videos are a bit self-consciously pretentious, but if you have an appreciation for art, some rather interesting imagery did come out of the experience, including:
- “Fjögur píanó,” shown above, featuring a fully naked and dancing Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el.
- Aidan Gillen (Carcetti from HBO’s The Wire) having a conversation with a snail in “Ekki Múkk,” directed by Nick Abrahams.
- John Hawkes (Sol Star from HBO’s Deadwood) and Elle Fanning (from the film Super 8, sister to Dakota) as father and daughter who have lost each other (and their lives?) in “Leaning Towards Solace,” directed by Floria Sigismondi.
- Absolutely breathtaking landscape shots in “Dauðalogn” by Henry Jun Wah Lee.
- Comically disturbing Heimlich maneuver coaching, in “Ég anda” by Ragnar Kjartansson.
- Whitney Museum-showing photographer Ryan McGinley, in his version of “Varúð” showing beautiful long-range shots of New York City, with his friend Jessica Tang skipping through the city, barefoot with golden tinseled hair.
I don’t recommend sitting and watching all 16 videos in one extended viewing, unless you’re willing to gouge your eyes out at the end. They’re good in small bunches. Great visuals, amazing sound, but one can only take so much depression and quiet. Once you’re done watching, or just listening, you can then retreat back to the 2008 album or Go to balance you back out. And give this new album a try net time you’re on an airplane, and let me know if it works for you as well as it does for me.
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